December 2020 | What to do when your office is too cold.
DWP/MB/163/20 Department for Work & Pensions Group

Is your office too cold?
Temperature in the office is one of the things that initiate the most complaints. However unlike in the summer when it was too hot, when it is too cold there is a legal lower limit. The minimum temperature under the Workplace (Health, safety and Welfare) regulations is 16 degrees. No one can be made to work in an office that is below this temperature.

There have been a number of incidents where people have had to wear coats in doors because of the lack of temperature. This is not acceptable.
The Health and Safety Executive and DWP guidance are clear that it is not just a question about the lower minimum temperature being adhered to, what is critical in a workplace is the thermal comfort levels. The fact that we need to sit at workstations to do our job means we need a reasonable temperature to do this work. This is higher than 16 degrees which is much too cold to do our jobs sitting down all day. Managers are focussing too much on the 16 degrees when there is a requirement for them to address the thermal comfort of staff which for an office situation is ideally 21-23 degrees. DWP guidance states When office temperatures drop below a threshold of thermal comfort and the problem affects more than one individual, is widespread or affects the whole building site managers are responsible for ensuring action is taken to address the issue.

What to do if your office is too cold?
If the office is too cold and it’s because your heating system is not working this can be reported by calling the help desk on 0870 606 0065. If this does not get resolved properly go through the estates escalation process.

In the meantime, management have a duty of care to ensure that nobody works in a temperature below 16 degrees and that thermal comfort needs are addressed. The site manager is responsible to ensure that the situation is rectified and what actions to take with the staff. They should consult with your local PCS representatives throughout this process.

They will need to know how long it will take to fix and what they are going to do with staff until this situation is sorted. Also all the measures they put in place need to be safe under the covid-19 measures as well. They can try and get supplementary heating but they need to address staff welfare whilst they are waiting. Additional heaters should be oil filled radiators and not fan heaters which recirculate the air and increase the covid-19 risks. If it is localised to a part of a building staff can be moved to warmer areas but only if there is sufficient space to continue to operate social distancing properly. Workstations must be cleaned between different users. However, moving desks is not always practical for those who have reasonable adjustments. If there is not sufficient room for members to move safely to areas of the office that can be kept warm or members can only work at their own desk which is set up with all their reasonable adjustments, members may need to be sent home until a permanent solution is found. Again if management are considering if there is space in nearby workplaces where staff could work temporarily it must be checked to see if it would safe to do so with covid-19 safety measures. Getting kit to enable members to work from home can also be considered but not management should also recognise that not everyone is able to work from home. Doing nothing is not an option. However difficult getting the work done to sort out the heating problems, it is management’s responsibility to find solutions so that members can work in an environment that is not only above 16 degrees but complies with the thermal comfort standards.

If you think your part of the office is too cold but it’s not because of a fault with the heating system you can request to have temperature readings done at your work station. Where members have a reasonable adjustment or an occupational health recommendation for a heater – this should be provided by using an oil filled radiator rather than fan heaters to reduce the covid risks.

Severe Weather
Each office should have a winter plan. This also needs to include ways that good ventilation can be introduced into a workplace to address the risks of airborne transmission of covid-19. But should be tailored to what works in each site to minimise the impact on the thermal comfort for members. The winter plan should have been discussed with all staff prior to the winter so that everybody knows what to do and who to contact in the event of extreme weather. There should also be a business continuity plan in place that all staff are aware of; this should be reviewed every year and following every situation such as this. The plan should include measures such as a call tree where managers and staff ensure they have numbers to contact.

During this period of severe disruption, if staff need advice they should ring the DWP emergency number - 0800 783 6617
There is clear guidance on the intranet on what needs to be done when there is severe weather

Managers clearly state that staff safety is paramount and everything else should reflect this priority. If members have any concerns, you should raise them with your local PCS reps

Stay safe

Carol Revell        Group Health and Safety Officer
Katrine Williams   Group Vice President